Easter is coming up soon. It is the celebration and remembrance of the day that Jesus arose from the dead. Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday is celebrated as the day that Jesus died on the cross.
In thinking about the trial of Jesus, I came across the custom of the Jewish people of the scapegoat. There were two men before the crowd. It was the custom of the Jewish people to have two goats (during the time when sacrifices were still being made in the Temple) sacrificing one goat and setting the other free. The goats needed to be identical. One goat was chosen to have the sins of the people set upon it and then it was set free out in the wilderness. The other goat was slain on the Temple altar.
When Jesus was standing before the people there also was another man, Barabbas, who was a known criminal. Pilate, the official who was deciding the fate of these two men asked the crowd of Jewish people which one should be set free and which one should die. The people chose to set Barabbas free (the one who was known to be a sinner) and chose to have Jesus crucified (the One Who was known to be free of sin). Just like the scapegoats of tradition, these two men became the scapegoats here.
As I look at this story I am struck by the impossible choice that Jesus’ disciples had on their hands. If they stood up for Jesus and worked to get Him free of dying on the cross they would be subverting God’s plan of salvation. If they stood up for Jesus and were vocal opponents of His death on the cross they would become the next target of the Jewish leaders who despised Jesus. All they could do was to either sit back and watch or run away and pretend that they never knew Jesus. The later is what they did.
I think what I am getting at is that there really was no choice at all. There was only the illusion of a choice. God’s plan was for Jesus to go to that cross and die as a sinless Man as if He had sinned. He would take on the sins of the world once and for all and relieve us of the burden of something that bulls and goats couldn’t do. The irony is that in sending Jesus (an innocent Man) to His death, all the people were now guilty of another sin. They were guilty of murder. It was their sin that was heaped upon Jesus and now they were going to murder a man they knew to be innocent of sin.
The irony is that Jesus’ death, if accepted as a gracious gift from a loving God, could become the very thing that relieved them of the burden of the sin of murdering Jesus. But, by accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation from their sins they also accept the fact that Jesus has now become their Shepherd and as their Shepherd He is compelling each one to die daily to self, take up their own cross of suffering and shame and follow His example.
Those who don’t accept Jesus’ free gift of His blood applied to the removal of their sins are left to be free to live but are sent off far from God.
But, we have to remember that it wasn’t only the people there at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion that actually drove Jesus to dying on the cross. Jesus died for everyone of us, throughout history. That means that we all put Jesus on that cross, not just the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day.
This means that everyone in the human race is either a Barabbas or a Jesus. Everyone in the human race is either the goat that was sacrificed in the Temple with its blood sprinkled on the altar or we are the scapegoat who has their sins still upon them but are set free to live.
Here, Barabbas becomes a type of every human who has ever lived throughout earth’s history. He is symbolic of every person. It isn’t known if he was Jewish or a Gentile. It is only known that he was a notorious criminal. This is the ultimate face off. We have Barabbas on the one hand who is guilty and Jesus Who is the Son of God Who is not guilty. I can only imagine Jesus standing there looking at Barabbas and seeing the sin-riddled souls of every human on the earth encapsulated into this one known criminal. Here Jesus sees all of humanity and the ultimate fate of all of humanity if He doesn’t die on the cross. We all would be lost in our sins. We would live our life on earth but then we’d all end up in hell because the weight of our sins would drag us down there.
All of this means to me that we only have two choices. We either choose to reject Jesus’ gift and stay the way we are (and become the scapegoat sent off to the wilderness) or we choose Jesus’ death on the cross, die with Him, are resurrected with Him to new life and free from sin by His blood sacrifice (coming the goat that is sacrificed on the altar). We are either Barabbas or Jesus. We all will stand before God in judgment at some point. When we do will God see just another Barabbas or will He see you with your own nail pierced hands and feet from having followed Jesus?
As I thought about this I began to ask Jesus the question, which do the Jewish people see themselves as? Are they seeing themselves as the scapegoat who has the sins of the world hoisted onto their shoulders with all the blame and shame of sin? Or, are they seeing themselves as lambs that need to be slain whose very blood is a sacrifice to God?
How each of us sees our suffering on this earth is the basis for how we live our life. It is the basis for how we act and react to God, His word, His Son and that Son’s death on the cross.
I am reminded, at this point, of a scripture: “Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:23-25 NIV
In the end, these are our two choices. We either lose our life and die to produce new life or we love our life and ultimately lose it for all eternity.
Some sobering stuff.
The Middle of the Garden…a blog by Janet Williams…A blog to see.